A sign reading "Penitenciaria" or penitentiary, sits above the door to one of the few cells used to contain prisoners. Most roamed the island in makeshift camps.
How a Deadly Prison Island Became a Natural Paradise
For almost 100 years, Coíba was inhabited only by criminals and political prisoners. Now it's one of the most biodiverse regions on the planet.
Beautiful but extremely dangerous—that’s how many Panamanians think of the island of Coíba 30 miles from their southern coast.
The largest island of the 38 islands contained in Coíba National Park, Coíba is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and one of the most biodiverse regions on the planet. Containing just over 120,000 acres, it makes those who visit its shores feel as if they’re stepping back in time to an era when the Earth was undeveloped. In addition to the 1,450 plant species on the island, Coíba’s forests are filled with hundreds of unique animals, and pristine coral reefs lie just beyond Coíba’s beaches.